Re: Meal Participation
From: Mariana Almeida (missmgrrlyahoo.com)
Date: Fri, 22 Jan 2010 16:06:11 -0800 (PST)
I love this topic, and it always generates ideas for me. Thanks to all who have 
responded with rich detail. 
Here's my assessment for Berkeley, Calif cohousing: 

The vibe: 
It’s the glue that holds the community together. It’s one of the few things we 
feel we do right. It’s often loud, and long – many people come at 6:30 and stay 
until 8:15. The food is often simple (soup, salad, bread), but some cooks like 
to go all out. 
 
Community: 
14 units with about 20 adults & 7 kids. Common house is about the size of large 
suburban home, maybe 1800sf. The kitchen is smaller than many suburban home 
kitchens.
 
The basics: 
We sign up for a quarter at a time
Each adult expected to do 4 cooking slots / 6 cleaning slots
We have meals are three times a week, same nights (Tu, Fri, Sun)
Each meal has 2 cooks, 3 cleaners. Cooks do not have duty to sign up to clean 
in same shift they cooked (phew! I am tired after I cook!)
 
It’s the glue that holds the community together. It’s one of the few things we 
feel we do right. It’s often loud, and long – many people come at 6:30 and stay 
until 8:15. The food is often simple (soup, salad, bread), but some cooks like 
to go all out. 
 
Community: 
14 units with about 20 adults & 7 kids. Common house is about the size of large 
suburban home, maybe 1800sf. The kitchen is smaller than many suburban home 
kitchens.
 
The basics: 
We sign up for a quarter at a time
Each adult expected to do 4 cooking slots / 6 cleaning slots
We have meals are three times a week, same nights (Tu, Fri, Sun)
Each meal has 2 cooks, 3 cleaners. Cooks do not have duty to sign up to clean 
in same shift they cooked (phew! I am tired after I cook!)
 
Attendance: 
Most residents attend most meals. This means cooking for about 25 people per 
meal. Some meals have guests attending, too. 
 
Mandatory nature of it
Most adults fulfill their cooking and cleaning slots. We probably wouldn’t 
notice if someone took off a quarter, and our policy is to try and not notice 
who is doing how much. 
 
We do have people who don’t cook or clean any more due to physical limitations. 
There is some disagreement if this is ok, and it’s a known issue that we need 
to iron out. For two members, they don’t cook or clean. For another, his 
household pays someone (not a community member) to do his share of both. 
 
Finances and Reckoning
Cost is $3.50 per adult; same price for guests. This has shown to be too low 
and we need to raise it. (Costs are partially off-set by Guest Room fees and 
Laundry fees, but many of us think this is not a good practice.) 
 
Cooks submit receipts for their food purchase. They are supposed to spend the 
dollar amount that is $3.50 x the number of people sign in. This expenditure is 
balanced by how many meals they ate in a quarter. Sometimes, cooks are paid 
back an amount at the end of the quarter, and sometimes, they owe.
 
This reckoning takes significant time and it’s somebody’s chore to do it. If a 
cook doesn’t submit a receipt in the time period, he or she is not credited for 
that meal. If someone doesn’t cook at all, then they just pay for the meals 
they ate. Staples are bought separately and we just discovered their reckoning 
is done outside the meals reckoning –oops!
 
How you sign up to eat: 
We assume “opt-in”. If you want to sign out, you must do it 48 hours before the 
meal, so that cooks can adjust the quantities. This is done by changing your Y 
for Yes to a N for No on a sheet of paper in the common house. If you didn’t 
attend a meal, by chance, you should not retroactively sign yourself out. You 
may request a “Late plate” be set aside if you’re late or coming the next day 
to get it.
 
Dietary restrictions: 
There is social pressure to have food that fulfills all the dietary 
restrictions. There is not a rule and some cooks say that they won’t do this 
sometimes. Cooking variations or multiple dishes is thought to be a big 
dissatisfier for some cooks who are already struggling to fulfill the 
assignment.
 
Leftovers and staples
Leftovers are usually taken home by cooks or other community members. We aim to 
have few or no leftovers. At the end of the meal, a diner can take leftovers at 
a reduced rate (meaning, they can take a full portion, but since it’s a 
leftover, it’s not counted at half price.) Leftovers in the fridge more than 
one day old are free. 
 
We have very little food storage space, and cooks buy fresh all the items they 
need to make a recipe. Food that is stored is often ignored and not used; it 
often goes bad or passes its due date. We like our fridge to be available for 
storing food for one or two upcoming meals, not for staples. We have gone as 
far as developing a list of allowable foods in the fridge. This is so that 
cooks who buy say, a container of chutney, know that they should not leave it 
in the CH fridge, but should take home the leftover jar. This is working better 
for us than having a fridge full of condiments but no room for the lasagna.
 
The usual items we keep as staples are things like oil, salt, spices, rice, 
butter. We usually have a freezer full of bread bits, too. 
 
q      The items we need to figure out: 
How to still have a functioning meals rotation with more people aging and not 
being able to do their cooks and cleans
o       A related topic: How do we handle repeat guests (weekly) who don’t 
pitch in for cooking and cleaning – some of us think they should sign up, take 
some of the load
o       Another one: can we start allowing participation into this meal modules 
outside of residency? This has been one idea to deal with coming labor 
shortage. 
q      What are our standards for organic – some people don’t want to pay more 
while others would appreciate higher quality food. 
q      What are our explicit agreements about dietary restrictions or 
preferences – do you really have to cook for people who merely don’t like 
mushrooms vs. the people who truly get sick if they eat gluten. 
q      Cooks who routinely overspend the allotted budget by up to 75%, and thus 
push the average up. 
q      Fix that staples reckoning issue. It really needs to be rolled in to the 
regular food budget.

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